Medical Care In Schools

24 Jan 2012

The GMB is to join an expert group to review medical care in schools with the first meeting on 1st February with recommendations to follow by Easter. The Government invite is “very welcome” because two out of five staff providing medical care to children in schools currently don’t have access to proper training or facilities according to a new GMB survey.

GMB, the union for school support staff, today responded positively to a Government invitation to join an expert “Supporting Pupils with Medical Needs in Schools and Early Years Settings Working Group”. The first meeting is on 1 February and recommendations will follow “by Easter”. GMB represents more than 100,000 school support staff.

GMB also today publishes the results of its latest nationwide survey about the state of medical care in schools. It reveals that while the most common medical duty undertaken by school support staff such as teaching assistants and secretaries is first aid (39%), large proportions of them are also involved in supporting children with asthma and diabetes (37% and 18% respectively), including insulin injections. Other medical procedures include feeding children through tubes in their noses or stomachs, helping them with their toileting, and sorting out catheters which remove urine from the bladder. 

40% of school support staff have not had relevant professional medical training for the duties they undertake. 40% also do not have access to a dedicated medical room, and have to use the staffroom or toilets to administer medical care instead. 54% feel vulnerable because of the tasks they’re expected to do. One-third say they’re still not getting the support and supervision they need from their school. Only 13% of support staff who undertake medical duties receive a first aid payment. 86% get no additional payment at all. 

GMB will now play a full role in the “Supporting Pupils with Medical Needs in Schools and Early Years Settings Working Group” which will review the issues and evidence, including clarity on procedures that can be undertaken by non-medical staff and appropriate staff training for specific medical conditions. It will provide “recommendations by Easter on the most viable options to take forward” to the Department for Education and Department of Health. The group will not be asked to consider legislative options.

Further meetings of the main group are scheduled to take place in the weeks commencing 20 February, 5 March and 26 March with agendas covering issues such as staff responsibility, liability and accountability, generic training, the role of school nurses, dissemination and next steps.

GMB has previously raised the problem of medical care in schools directly with Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove at a meeting on 12 October and in several Education Forum meetings of unions, employers and policymakers chaired by Schools Minister Nick Gibb. A working group set up under the auspices of the Forum began work on the subject last autumn with GMB participation; this work will now be taken forward.

Sharon Holder, GMB National Officer for Schools, said: “GMB has been campaigning to improve medical care in schools for some time, which is why the Government’s invitation to join this review is very welcome. We will work with other key stakeholders to try to improve the current makeshift arrangements that schools have in place. Headteachers currently expect teaching assistants and secretaries to do everything from insulin injections to tube feeding. In too many cases staff are simply expected to “learn on the job” and sometimes they’re unsure about the correct dosage or procedure.

The Government, the NHS and local authorities must ensure that schools are properly resourced to care for vulnerable children. Headteachers have a responsibility to pupils, parents and staff to put proper training and facilities in place.

GMB consider that intricate medical procedures should be left to qualified health professionals which means more school nurses. There is a limit to the care that non-medical school staff can safely undertake. Given the increasing prevalence of asthma and diabetes, along with more complex conditions, this is a priority issue for all schools”.